It was a very trying Spring with cool, rainy weather amplified by the restraints from the pandemic, followed by racial tensions and curfews. But the weather in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast finally turned a corner with longer stretches of warmer days when I penned this blog. Ideal for this classic Italian salad which marries cooked white beans and oil-packed tuna for a protein-packed, pantry-friendly, light meal.
With summer now hitting the high notes—and by that I mean real muggy with soaring temps—it’s time to move away from heartier stews, and dive into bean dishes like this one, which require little to no additional cooking, and can be served at room temperature.
Because this dish is comprised of just a few ingredients, it’s at its best when made with top quality products. Cooked dried beans (and their cooking liquid) have much better flavor and texture than canned beans, so it’s highly recommended to use them in this recipe, if possible. BUT, we didn’t want to “cook” so we used Great Northern canned.
According to SeriousEats.com where we got this recipe, if using canned beans, substitute bean cooking liquid with 2 teaspoons water and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard. The flavor of the dish obviously won’t be exactly the same, but mustard provides similar emulsifying properties as the bean cooking liquid for the dressing. I just learned something new with that!
Beans are one thing, but do not skimp on the tuna. The quality of the tuna you use will make a difference here. Oil-packed ventresca tuna is recommended, which comes from the richer, fatty belly; it’s moister and more flavorful than other canned or jarred tuna. Two great options of ventresca are both Ortiz and Tonnino—we used the latter.
About that tuna, 5.6 ounces for 4 people? Seemed a bit scant to me. Our jar was slightly larger at 6.7 ounces. (I noted the larger amount in the list below.) Plus, I don’t know why they didn’t save the oil after draining the tuna. We did, and it was exactly a 1/4-cup, the amount of EVOO needed for the dressing. The jarred oil is already brimming with flavor from the tuna, so why not use it?
Using a small mandoline to slice the red onion very thin makes quick work of the task. The original recipe doesn’t even list greens in the ingredients (although it is fleetingly mentioned in their narrative), but to me, a dinner salad needs a bed of them, otherwise it’s a “side dish” in my opinion. We chose a mix of baby spinach and arugula.
Hearty, but light, this salad requires less than 10 minutes of hands-on work, making it the perfect no-cook, quarantine pantry, warm-weather meal. And because it can be served at room temperature, it would make a fine contribution to a potluck or picnic affair. Enjoy!
White Bean and Tuna Salad
- 1/2 red onion, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
- 1 Tbsp. Champagne, white wine, or red wine vinegar plus extra for drizzling
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups (1 pound 6 ounces) cooked dry white beans, drained; or two (15-ounce) cans low-sodium white beans, drained and rinsed
- 6.7 ounces olive oil-packed tuna, preferably ventresca tuna belly, drained into a measuring cup, and gently flaked into bite-size pieces (save the oil for the dressing)
- 1 med. garlic clove, minced or finely grated
- 1 Tbsp. bean cooking liquid, from a pot of beans cooked from dry (see note if using canned beans)
- Extra-virgin olive oil, enough needed, if any, to add to the tuna oil to make 1/4 cup
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves and tender stems
- 5 oz. baby salad greens
- In a small bowl, combine red onion and enough ice water to cover. Using clean hands, gently scrunch and squeeze the onion slices, taking care not to crush or break them. Let onion slices sit in ice water for 15 minutes, then drain and discard ice water, and return red onion to now-empty bowl.
- Add vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss and gently massage onions to evenly coat with vinegar and salt. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow onion slices to marinate.
- Meanwhile, combine beans and tuna in a large bowl. Once onions have marinated for 5 minutes, squeeze onion slices to release moisture into the bowl that they marinated in, then transfer onion slices to large bowl with beans and tuna; set large bowl aside.
- There should be at least 1 tablespoon of vinegar-onion juice liquid left in the small bowl. Add garlic, bean cooking liquid (or, if using canned beans, 2 teaspoons water plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard), and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, and whisk to combine. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the tuna olive oil. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt.
- Transfer dressing to large bowl with bean-tuna mixture, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the dressing into the large bowl. Using a large spoon, gently toss salad to evenly coat with dressing, taking care not to crush tuna or beans in the process.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad between individual serving plates or one large serving platter.
- If desired, drizzle lightly with olive oil and a splash of vinegar, and serve.